A Marine fires an AT4 antitank rocket at a simulated enemy position in the Central Command's area of operations in Iraq last March. (US Marine Corps/Will Perkins)

As Iraqi security forces waged their successful assault on Islamic State militants in Ramadi late last year, Marines stationed at the nearby Al Taqqadum base were close enough to hear the air assaults and major explosions.

While still not considered "boots on the ground," these Marines, attached to the Corps’ crisis response force in the Middle East, supported Iraqi forces behind the scenes in the fight, task force commander Col. Bill McCollough told reporters this week at the Pentagon.

For McCollough’s unit, Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Crisis Response-Central Command, the December reclamation of Ramadi represented an emotional high point for the six-month deployment rotation, which wrapped up in April.

According to sources and Central Command officials, troops from the task force represent most of the Marine presence in Iraq, with more than 300 Marines each at joint bases in Al Taqaddum and Al Asad, and a company-sized element providing security reinforcement at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The small Marine team of advisers working directly with Iraqi military leaders at the division level and the larger contingent of troops in Iraq providing security and logistical support to the bases eagerly tracked developments in the fast-paced…

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